Sunday, June 19, 2011
Uncanny X-men #538 - The Politics of Awesome
Wow, it feels kind of strange to be reviewing Uncanny X-men. And not strange in the way I get when I wake up in their backyard spooning their dog. In case you went on a cocaine bender in Costa Rica, Marvel announced that they're ending Uncanny X-men at issue 544 as a result of the Schism event. I have mixed feelings about it. I admit I got a hand-written thank-you letter from the old Ukrainian who runs the liquor store closest to my house. I needed a few stiff drinks after hearing that, but let's face it. Reboot fever has overtaken comics and it's more contagious than chlamydia back stage at a Motley Crue concert. I'll be content if Marvel doesn't fuck up Uncanny to the point where it needs to go into rehab with Lindsey Lohan.
With all this news surrounding Uncanny, it's easy to forget that there's an actual story going on that's been unfolding for the last two issues. Kieron Gillen has the misfortune of shining a flashlight next to nuclear bomb because much of his inaugural arc has been overshadowed by this news. It's been a pretty awesome arc as well. It revisits the story of Breakworld and Kruun, which first developed under Joss Whedon in Astonishing X-men. Now even without the Uncanny news, that shit would be hard enough. That's like trying to dress more outlandishly than Lady Gaga. The odds are not in your favor. But Gillen has proven that he can take the elements of the Breakworld story and craft a quality arc around it. Now it hasn't been anywhere near as epic as what Joss Whedon did, but it's been pretty fucking sweet. It involves aliens stabbing mutants. There aren't too many ways that can't be awesome.
Before the dreaded Uncanny announcement, Gillen's Breakworld arc hit on some powerful moments. Kruun's balls were at an all time high level of hardness. He de-powered Magneto and Colossus. He paralyzed Cyclops and Emma Frost and he didn't even need roofies to do it. He also forced Kitty Pryde out of that stupid space suit she's been stuck in. That alone is enough to make me want to send a bottle of vodka to Kruun. Then she tried to get help, only to end up getting stabbed by Kruun's better half while Kruun himself tried to screw over Wolverine. In the beginning of this issue, we don't see what happens to Kitty. But we do find out that Kruun's plan to subdue Wolverine isn't going very well. Seriously, when has it ever been a good idea to try and sneak up on Wolverine? An alien of any sufficient intelligence should know that's dumber than walking into the den of a grizzly and sodomizing both her cubs.
Whether he's stupid or just has balls, Kruun does give Wolverine a good fight. He proves that he can hold his own against Marvel's most overexposed mutant. He takes some claws to the chest, but to the aliens in Breakworld that's like a shaving cut. You make a big deal about it, they probably call you gay. Kruun doesn't miss a beat. Despite some flesh wounds by Wolverine, he manages to get a stab of his own in the mix. It's not even close to being the most deadly wound Wolverine has ever endured. But it's enough to at least make him stumble a bit.
Just as this fight's getting gruesome, we get an unexpected revelation. Think back beyond any blackouts or acid trips you may have had to the last issue. It ended with Kitty Pryde getting stabbed by Kruun's alien shag partner. Well while he's getting his ass kicked, Kitty shows up next to the wounded Colossus (who got his ass kicked in the last issue mind you). And get this, she's not ghost anymore. She can talk. She can control her powers. Henceforth, she doesn't need that ridiculous space suit!
Now before we offer sacrifice to Odin and Kieron Gillen for doing this, I still have to scratch my head. Even Kruun was confused by this. Out of nowhere, she's back to normal and we don't know how or why. She offers a cryptic hint, but it's so vague that for all we know she could have found a genie and had it grant her a wish. Or she could have channeled the Phoenix Force (she wouldn't be the first one under Gillen) to fix her up. We don't have a fucking clue. Gillen's avoided being to contrived with his stories so far so this is pretty disappointing. However, the blow is softened by the promise that we won't see that damn space suit anymore.
Whatever the case, Kruun is pissed. He looks to rough Kitty up the same way like Joe Pecci on a cocaine binge. Unfortunately for Kruun, Kitty Pryde isn't completely retarded. She didn't come alone. Kruun only took out Cyclops and Emma Frost in the last issue. He didn't take out Storm, Iceman, Psylocke, Namor, Angel, or Jean Gre-I mean Hope Summers (damn it, you would think after all my Generation Hope reviews I would get that shit right). These are not characters you can just brush aside. You fuck with their friends and your asshole better be covered by your health insurance.
Kruun shows he's not completely retarded either. He doesn't even try to take on all these X-men. He basically raises his hands Bernie Madoff style and says he's caught. He even reveals that the 'cure' he injected Colossus and Magneto with were basically like New Coke. It'll disappear and go back to their classic versions fairly quickly. He knows he's in deep shit. He gets even more pissed when Kitty brings up Heleena, who if you recall stabbed Kitty in the previous issue. Rather than turn himself in, Kruun decides to pull a ninja trick and run. He's not retarded, but he's not a little bitch either.
Kitty goes after Kruun while the others help Colossus. He's still in combat mode so he threatens Kitty with nerve gas if he doesn't allow him to take Heleena and leave. Just because the X-men now have an excuse to kick his ass doesn't mean he's going to drop his pants and bend over the nearest chair. There's just one problem with his terrorist demands. Heleena isn't exactly in a state to do anything. In the same place where Kitty got stabbed, now she's basically doing a Nichole Simpson impersonation in the middle of the lab.
Now it's still pretty damn confusing at this point. We know something happened, but it just keeps getting more vague. A flashback here would be nice. It would be a hell of a lot easier than trying to pick out from these words what the hell happened. But we get no such thing. So even though Kitty is out of the damn space suit, we don't don't know the how and why. I'm all for mystery, but without clearer hints it just becomes an incoherent mind fuck. It's like the anti-Matrix.
When an explanation does come around, it's just told. It's not shown. Kitty explains that Heleena did actually kill her, but then she used this machine that he was going to use on Cyclops and Colossus. Heleena brought her back to life, fixing her powers in the process. Kruun is obviously not pleased. He's prepared to use the nerve gas again, pulling the equivalent of an alien Shakespeare play. Then Kitty gives him reason to stop and think before he subjects himself to nerve gas that will burn his skin off like the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones. She gives him a letter that Heleena wrote for him. It basically explained what she did and why she did it. Long story short, their world is gone. They shouldn't keep tying themselves down to the bullshit traditions and taboos that got them kicked out in the first place. It makes a lot of sense, but considering there are still religious cults who sacrifice goats it's a little outrageous that a simple letter could change his mind.
Kruun could have been a complete douche-bag here and just dropped the nerve gas. But as Gillen has shown throughout this arc, he's not the kind of insane psychopath who would just randomly fuck himself when the going got tough. He actually shows that he has the alien equivalent of a heart when he sacrifices his own life force to save Heleena. In Breakworld culture, that's the act of ultimate submission. That's like willingly becoming someone's prison bitch to the point where you never take solid shits again. But Kruun goes through with it. He saves Heleena. Either he loves her that much or he's really that whipped.
Now here's where there's even more ambiguity. Did Kruun sacrifice his life? Or did he just sacrifice enough to save Heleena? If you read this over having already read the spoilers online, you would be confused. Because it really isn't clear. Just as the reasons behind Kitty Pryde's return to form isn't clear, some of this stuff is just left to a reader's imagination. The problem is some readers killed a lot of brain cells in college. It hurts the story when shit isn't clear. Kieron Gillen hasn't had that issue to this point so it is a disappointing moment.
Minor spoiler alert, Kruun lives. However, there's still a problem. Just what the hell are they going to do with these aliens? Flash forward a bit and Cyclops tells Abigail Brand (who has been completely detached from this plot) that the refugees they have are doing okay. Since Kruun's little breakthrough, the X-men have gone about teaching them such radical ideas as peace, co-operation, and not solving problems by stabbing them. Brand reports that the conflicts on Breakworld have magically lessened, meaning there are fewer refugees and they won't have to worry about another influx. Seriously, where the fuck was that story? Also, the mayor of San Francisco agreed to allow the Breakworlder's to stay. That's right, a mayor of an American city is allowing an alien race to set up shop. Somewhere in the Marvel universe, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs just blew their brains out in protest.
It's a hell of a transition. Kruun went from vengeful exile to California tax payer. It's a strange way to resolve an issue, but it has a touch of novelty. The way it works is the mayor gave them access to a part of town that no one really give a shit about in the city. In a town full of mutants, gays, and S&M clubs it's probably the only place in the world besides maybe Japan where their weirdness helps them fit in. Kruun even goes so far as to stop his own people from harassing a homeless lady. From crazy alien warrior to a West Coast liberal. It's a transition that's utterly fucked up, but not as messy as the usual resolutions in X-men. I give Kieron Gillen credit for doing something different.
As for Kitty and Colossus, they finally have their moment after Colossus heals up. They meet on the same cliff where they started, except Kitty isn't wearing that stupid space suit. That means they can touch again and cuddle in all the ways that make the Catholic Church (or orthodox Jews in Kitty's case) cringe. It's a simple, sweet moment between two characters that basically got shafted for nearly five years in the books. In a world where guys make deals with Mephisto to undo their marriages, it's nice to see a happy couple for once. Hopefully Marvel gives them some time before they decide to fuck it up.
And so we're one issue closer to the end of Uncanny X-men. I'm still mixed about it. I admit it was hard to read this issue without dwelling on this series ending in a mere six issues. I read it while drunk and while sober. I just couldn't get around that. Never-the-less, I was still able to enjoy this story. It did exactly what I hoped it would do. It got Kitty Pryde out of that stupid ass space suit. I know I've made a big deal about that on multiple reviews, but it really was an annoying little plot that needed to be resolved. Details aside, it's been resolved now. Kitty is back to her old self. She and Colossus can now pick up where they left off. I'm sure Colossus will enjoy petting his pretty Kitty in her full tangible form from now on.
While I enjoyed the overall resolution of the issue, I did find some elements a bit overly confusing. It just took too long from the moment Kitty showed up fully healed to the moment where it was explained. Now it was certainly a given that Kitty wasn't going to die after the final page of the previous issue. Otherwise Marvel would be hyping that story up like Mike Tyson comeback fight. But it would have been nice to get at least a flashback or some hint as to what happened to get her back to normal. In addition, the moment with Kruun at the end a little off. His dialog implies that he's sacrificing his life. Then a few pages later, he's wearing a T-shirt from the Gap and hauling wood like a day-laborer. It's confusing and it limits the overall impact. The whole resolution with Breakworld does seem a little underwhelming. It's a novel idea to have Kruun and his people set up shop in San Francisco, but I would expect that to be a much more tricky solution. It seems too convenient and too complete.
Despite the resolution, Kieron Gillen's writing is still spot on. Terry Dodson's art is still solid. His first arc has been a great exploration of the Uncanny world. It's somewhat reassuring that he'll be the one guiding this series to it's end and inevitable relaunch. He definitely shows that he has the writing skills. However, the end of this arc and the structure of this story hold it back. Gillen's writing isn't the problem. It's the organization of the overall plot that hurts this arc. I can't give too low a score, but I can't give it as high a score as I did the other issues. In the end Uncanny X-men #538 gets a 3.5 out of 5. It's slightly above average in terms of writing and characterization. It suffers from a disorganized plot and shaky resolution. It's still awesome, but there's so much more potential that can and should be realized before the final issue. Nuff said!